The culinary spotlight is now on Filipino food. When the world-renowned Madrid Fusion, the annual gathering of top chefs and food lovers, decided to expand beyond Madrid, they chose Manila. It’s a big recognition and quite a coup tor the Department of tourism (DO) and the tourism Promotions Board (TPB) for pulling this off. In fact, they have been getting rave reviews for its splendid hosting tor three years in a row.
While Filipinos may take for granted how great the food on their tables are, the world is certainly taking notice. Here’s how award-winning American chef and TV host Andrew Zimmern describes it in a Viral video: “Their (Filipinos) use of acidity, the quality of their food has the best of Asian cuisine and the best of what happens when really good Asian food brushes up against Spanish culture.”
Zimmern even predicts that Filipino food is “Americas big trend.” Another big tan is celebrity chef and TV host Anthony Bourdain who rates Filipino sisig (a sizzling pork dish), as “perfectly positioned to win the hearts and minds of the world as a whole. Bourdain adds that people abroad should look and investigate further beyond sisig.”
How’s that to tease your palette?
LAING AND BICOL EXPRESS
Down in southern Luzon is the Bicol Region with its most iconic dish-laing: taro leaves stewed in coconut milk, chillies, and shrimp paste. It is a fantastic appetizer that local restaurants can prepare mild to flaming hot in spiciness.
Often served as a side dish to other preparations of protein, even the popular Bicol Express (pork meat simmered in a fiery chili-infused coconut milk), laing can stand as a main dish on its own.
While many local restaurants in Metro Manila offer laing, there’s nothing like the original in Bicol. The town of Camalig, just outside Legazpi City, grows the best taro leaves and serves the region’s best laing
CAMARO OR CRICKETS FROM PAMPANGA
In the central plains of Luzon lies the rich province of Pampanga, which is known, among other things, for its culinary tradition. Crickets abound in Pampangas vast rice fields and while they can be considered pests, the locals think otherwise.
The Kapampangans (as the residents of Pampanga are called) catch and eat crickets by cooking it adobo-style-stewed in vinegar, garlic, soy sauce, bay leaves, and peppercorns. Rich in protein, this exotic dish is an acquired taste. Try it at local Pampanga restaurants or in a few Metro Manila establishments like Abe in Bonifacio Global City.
CROCODILE DISHES FROM DAVAO
Ever wondered how crocodile tastes? In Davao, in the southern Philippine Island Mindanao, one can start at the Crocodile Farm where some resident reptiles are prepared into dishes like sisig, crocodile innards seasoned with local lime and soy. The jury is still out on its enjoyability but one thing is for sure-order it for some bragging rights.
Bicolano’s love for spice stands out as a distinct regional taste that is best exemplified by laing (topmost) and Bicol Express (middle right). Photos by Erwin Lim. In Davao, the sisig gets more exotic with the use of crocodile meat (right). Photo by Rhonson Ng. Meanwhile, in Pampanga, crickets provide a protein-rich dish (middle left). Photo by Justin Ventura
GIANT ANTS. BAGNET AND EMPANADA FROM ILOCOS
Up north in the llocos Region, climate conditions are drier and when produce is harder to come by, the hardy llocanos get creative. Fish and pork leftovers are not thrown away but are added to give a depth of flavor to pinakbet, a hearty vegetable stew seasoned with bagoong or fish paste.
Forget about your cholesterol tor a moment and try bagnet, twice-fried pork belly. Cooked the right way (a local secret), the pork skin is rendered crunchy while the meat inside remains tender. Then there’s Vigan longganisa (sausage) known for its fatty, garlicky, and vinegary flavors. They also have a pastry called the empanada, which is stuffed with Vigan longganisa, shredded green papaya, and a raw egg yolk; sealed into a rice-flour dough, later on deep-fried, and drizzled with cane vinegar.
To channel your inner Bear Grylls, sample a local delicacy-red ant called abuos. Variations include fried like a fritter or as a Provençal-style tapenade that includes the ant’s bean-shaped eggs. Definitely healthier and tastier than junk food.